Saturday, July 02, 2005

Eminent Domain Seizes Sad Friday Night

Pittsburgh has a spotty history with eminent domain. The Central North Side, completely demolished, wrapped with a 4 lane traffic circle, and walled off from downtown by an elevated highway, is a case in point. From where we heady urban planners (oh my vanity) stand today, the North Side suffers from an incomprehensible road system and Urban Decay directly attributable to a 1960's version of "Urban Renewal." The surrounding community, built around the demolished juncture of Ohio and Federal Streets, has no hub, no focus and no heart. Robert Moses, having loosed the twin spectres of Heavy-Handed Government and Eminent Domain, stands between Pandora and Donald Rumsfeld in the Pantheon of Woops.

Yet the abusive use of Eminent Domain by asshole politicians belies a simple truth about Cities and the concept of 'collective good' necessitated by dense populations. Cities stand for thousands of years, yet the people who inhabit them live less than 100. The fact that generation after generation will inhabit a pre-existing urban fabric built to suit the needs, lifestyles and technologies of those long gone necessitates that certain accomodations be made for each successive generation. A city must adapt as the needs of residents change: No loger serving as the oft' flammable open sewer for industry, Cleveland's Cuyahoga River now 'boasts' an embryonic riverfront serving nearby lofts and offices. Furthermore, neighborhoods suffering from decades of poor planning and lax zoning must be able to wash away the residue of a seedy or industrial past: Federal Street, boasting restored Victorian Mansions and new upscale restaurants, is likewise graced with perverts looking to get-off in the sticky seats of the Garden Theater. Both examples exhibit a need to get rid of certain elements of the past to accomodate the necessities of the future. Though it is expected this will be done "within reason," those defining "reasonable" are sometimes anything but.

The Justices could have ruled in favor of America's Property Rights tradition, but it would have hamstrung older communities looking to exorcize their seedy pasts. The Justices, ruling in favor of an obnoxious development in Conneticut, put us all at risk of the next Robert Moses. One mile from Allegheny Center, powerful jets blast water 200 feet above the newly formed Ohio River: A crystalline obleisk triumphantly proclaiming the rebirth of Pittsburgh from its polluted past. Ironic that a city that so suffered at the hands of Eminent Domain-driven Urban Renewal has this iconic reminder of Urban Renewal's victories. Eminent Domain is a viciously sharp, double-edged sword.

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